Monthly Archives: January 2016

Sandown Deliberative on Video

Watch New Hampshire local deliberation in action: today’s Sandown Deliberative Session starting at 8 a.m. and ending around 11 a.m.

Thanks to Sandown Cable Station master, Chris Donnellan for making this available so quickly.

Jan. 30, 2016 Sandown Deliberative

 

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Withdrawal Article Unchanged

Today’s town Deliberative session moved Article 13 concerning Sandown withdrawal from the Timberlane School District to ballot with no changes.

First-time moderator, Bruce Cleveland, did a fine job giving everyone an opportunity to speak.

 

 

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Today is Sandown Deliberative

Starting at 8 a.m. today, Sandown residents will decide what goes to the ballot for March voting.  Will the Citizens Against Withdrawal from Timberlane have the courage of their vocal convictions?  If they are so very convinced that Sandown doesn’t want to leave Timberlane, they should then offer no amendments to the fair questioned posed in Article 13.

This is today’s big suspense.

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Our Testimony to the Education Committee

Today the House Education Committee held a hearing on HB1303, a bill authored by Arthur Green to make  issues associated with withdrawing from a cooperative district more explicit.

The room was packed with listeners and the committee showed a lively engagement with the testimony.  They asked quite a few questions of me, Arthur and the representative from the NH School Boards Association.

Here is my written submission followed by Arthur’s written submission.

HB 1303

A bill addressing 195:25-30, the withdrawal procedure of a town from a cooperative school district.

Withdrawing from a cooperative district can be as ugly and contentious as a divorce because there are many millions of dollars on the line with ramifications for thousands of people, many of whom are children. Unfortunately, the law for this kind of divorce is no where near as explicit as marital divorces even though the stakes are much, much higher.

Sandown’s invocation of 195:25 in exploring withdrawal from the Timberlane Regional School District has exposed three major issues with the current law and that have cost our town and the school district unnecessary legal fees for inconclusive opinions.

  • When can a minority report be submitted to the Board of Education?
  • How to give the withdrawing town a final say on the withdrawal plan?
  • How are the financial obligations to both parties calculated?

(The author of HB1301, Arthur Green, will be speaking to the financial aspect of the current legislation.)

MINORITY REPORT: At present, the law provides for the submission of a Minority withdrawal plan if the official committee finds that withdrawal is not feasible and suitable.

The Timberlane official committee argued that the “if” is prohibitive – that is, the “Minority” withdrawal plan can be submitted only if the official committee chooses not to submit its own withdrawal plan. It is our position that the “if” is permissive, and does not block submission of a minority plan. However, the existing wording does allow the prohibitive interpretation and this is what this inexact wording led to.

Influential members of the official withdrawal committee threatened to submit a “hostile” withdrawal plan that Sandown could never agree to in order to block the submission of our own minority withdrawal plan. In the end they didn’t do this because the threat was enough for the Board of Selectmen to dissolve the town’s minority committee.

The proposed change would clarify the legislature’s intent to allow a “Minority” withdrawal plan, and would save the taxpayers needless legal costs in fighting whether a town has a right to submit a “Minority” withdrawal plan to the Board of Education (and whether the Board of Education is allowed to consider such a plan if submitted).

If the law is not changed, the Timberlane template will be copied by other cooperative districts in the state wishing to prevent withdrawal of a town, and the “Minority” provision of the law will become a right only on paper.

THE FINAL VOTE: The law currently requires a majority vote of the entire district to approve the withdrawal plan if sent to ballot by the Board of Education. The revised wording requires that there also be a majority within the withdrawing town.

At present, the vote by the initiating town for a study under RSA 195:25 begins a process in which the town has no further decisive voice. This change would ensure that the withdrawal plan emerging from the study cannot go into effect unless it has the support of the withdrawing town.

Part and parcel of the ingenious hostile withdrawal plan came the suggestion that a withdrawal plan with a $6 million price tag could go to district vote – over the objections of Sandown – and voters of the district as a whole could very well vote to expel Sandown from the district to reap this $6 million buy-out fee from Sandown.

By inventing the idea of a hostile withdrawal plan, Timberlane has turned the statutory plan for withdrawal on its head, creating a template for any other cooperative district to use against any town considering the 195:25 process, ultimately frustrating the State’s interest in an orderly withdrawal process.

The proposed requirement for a “double majority” would remove this threat by giving the withdrawing town a final veto on the plan, even if approved by the district as a whole.

We ask you to support changes to the current legislation that would protect the right of a town wishing to withdraw to submit a report regardless of the official plan submitted, and to also give the withdrawing town another opportunity to vote on the final plan.

Donna Green

Sandown Representative to the Timberlane Regional School Board on her own behalf.

Jan. 27, 2016

HB1303

I’m Arthur Green, Sandown resident and past member of the Budget Committee for Timberlane Regional School District, and the originator of these changes. Many thanks to the State Representatives and Senators who stepped forward to sponsor this proposal.

I am sure that all of us agree that a town withdrawing from a cooperative school district has no business walking away with facilities paid for by the remaining towns, and this is specifically what the RSA deals with.

For many cooperatives, the issue does not arise. For example, the Exeter cooperative covers Middle and High School only. Pre-existing member districts like Brentwood have their own school districts and boards covering elementary school, which retain possession of those buildings. So if Brentwood were to withdraw from Exeter, there would be no buyout, and Brentwood would simply forfeit its notional equity in the cooperative district facilities.

In the case of Timberlane, the cooperative district covers pre-K through 12, and owns all the elementary schools of the member towns, hence triggering RSA 195:28.

Cost of capital improvements to these facilities is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact in the district’s financial records, albeit requiring some research to determine those costs from archived paper records.

Contribution of Sandown to the district’s capital costs is not a matter of opinion, it is explicit in the annual reports because capital costs are separately allocated to the towns.

The key phrase generating disagreement is “less the share which the withdrawing school district has already paid toward such costs”. But how much has a town “already paid” toward the cost of a specific building? The district’s financial systems do not track town equity to individual facilities, and the RSA does not specify how this would be calculated.

The TRSD position may be summarized as follows: Sandown contributes about 18% of the capital (on average), so Sandown is deemed to have “paid” for 18% of Sandown North school, 18% of Sandown Central School, 18% of the Timberlane Regional High School, 18% of Danville Elementary school, and so forth through all the facilities of the district. If Sandown wishes to withdraw, since the other towns have “paid” for 82% of the 2 Sandown facilities, Sandown must pay the district back 82%. The district’s preliminary assessment of the dollar amount is $6.4 million.

As a matter of fact, Sandown has contributed $15 million in capital to the entire district’s facilities over the life of the cooperative. The district’s total investment in Sandown facilities is about $8.4 million (net of Building Aid). By the district’s interpretation of the RSA, Sandown is credited with only $2 million (that 18%). They are claiming that to exit the district, Sandown would owe an additional $6.4 million. Not only that but we would forfeit $13 million out of the $15 million in capital contributions Sandown has already contributed to the entire district.

It would be natural for people who are not close to this issue to assume that Sandown has, over time, underpayed for the investments made within the town, and it is only right that the other towns be made whole.

But on the logic of the district, it is impossible for any town to have already paid the cost of such expenditures. No matter how many years, or how much or little is invested within a town, that town’s equity in those facilities can only be the 18% (or whatever that town’s proportion of the district capital allocation).

In effect, this establishes a multi-million dollar buy-out obstacle to any town wishing to withdraw from any cooperative district, so long as that district is structured owning the elementary schools. When the legislature wrote 195:28, did they intend to create an insurmountable obstacle to withdrawal? Or did they intend to ensure that a town does not exit with facilities paid for by the other member towns?

Our view is that the existing legal wording is compatible with the idea that the withdrawing town’s full record of capital contributions be taken into account. Sandown, having paid $15 million to the district, has more than paid the cost of facilities within Sandown, and would be forfeiting about $4 million of contributions to shared district facilities, a situation similar to Brentwood withdrawing from the Exeter cooperative.

However, the existing wording allows multiple interpretations. The amendment we offer clarifies the situation by making it explicit that, in this situation, a town’s capital contributions are “credited” first to the facilities within the town. This will save the taxpayers needless legal costs (on both sides of the issue) in disputing the calculation of the buyout fee.

If the Timberlane district’s interpretation of the RSA prevails, it will effectively prevent withdrawal of any town from any cooperative structured as is Timberlane. It will also mean that no towns in future would ever consider entering this form of cooperative organization. Is it in the state’s interest to encourage the formation of cooperative districts, to gain economies of scale? If so, then it is also in the state’s interest to have a predictable, fair and non-punitive process for withdrawal. If this is what the legislature wants, we ask you to adopt this change.

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Jorge Mesa-Tejada Speaks

The defamed Jorge Mesa-Tejada, Chairman of Hampstead’s Budget Committee, speaks to Rich Girard and Ed Naille about the circumstances of his No Trespass order from Superintendent Metzler.

Jorge Speaks

 

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FAQs on Withdrawal

This is an excerpt from FAQs on Withdrawal published on CASE2018.wordpress.com

Why Now?

At the time of the district’s founding in 1964, Sandown had very few students. Teaming up with other towns brought financial efficiency – especially given that the state was providing building incentives for cooperative school districts that single districts could not receive. Timberlane Regional High School was built in 1966.

Fifty-one years later, Sandown has 1016 students, the second largest cohort of students in the district, a close second to Plaistow which has 1127 students. Sandown is now large enough to sustain its own school district and is entitled to more control in the decisions affecting their children’s education. State building aid is no longer a factor.

Timberlane’s academic outcomes have been on a long decline, though they have seen an uptick in the last year. The Smarter Balanced assessment given in 2015 shows Timberlane’s 11th Grade students considerably under-performing the state average (and Pinkerton). Just 29% of our 11th graders are proficient or above in math, and just 50% in reading. We must do better by our children, and we can. (Pinkerton’s scores: 41% math, 70% reading.)

Timberlane has experienced very high budget increases (despite sharply declining enrollment district wide) that has resulted in nearly a $19,000 per student cost. This high per student cost is driving up our property taxes which are considerably higher than many comparable towns around us. This drives down our property values and no relief is in sight. (From 2008 to 2017, student enrollment will have declined 24%, but the TRSD budget will have gone UP 21%.)

Timberlane’s 20-year bond will be paid off in 2020. Now is the time to leave the district before new bonding makes any exit impossible.

Sandown CAN have great schools at an affordable cost.

For more FAQs and details on the withdrawal plan see

http://www.CASE2018.wordpress.com

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Detailed Financials Released for SSD

Voters wanting to know the financial projections for a new Sandown School District (SSD) will want to open up CASE2018.wordpress.com.

The Home page now has a tab labelled, “Financials” that includes a five-year projected budget and links to detailed financial considerations such as busing, staffing, benefits and enrollment among many others. You can even find directions to the estimated tax impact calculations.

CASE stands for Citizens for the Advancement of Sandown Education. We can have great schools, higher property values and lower taxes.

CASE2018

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Girard at Large Jan. 22, 2o16

Listen to my interview about the diseased governance culture at Timberlane.  Then hear Rich talk about the importance of citizens participating in local elective offices to clean up messes that only get worse when ignored.

Tumult in Timberlane: A Lack of Integrity in Leadership

Sandown’s Town Deliberative Session is on Jan. 30, 8 a.m., Town Hall.

Timberlane’s School Deliberative Session is on Feb 4 at the PAC.  Doors open at 6 pm for registration

Election is March 8

Information on Sandown Withdrawal can be found at CASE2018.wordpress.com

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“Shut up”, she explained

If you tried to watch the school board meeting tonight, you would have seen the board go into “recess” while I was arguing with Ms. Steenson who would not let me complete my public comment. We did not actually have a recess.  This is the chairman’s favorite dishonesty to the public.  She pulls the plug on the audio and video broadcast when she doesn’t like what is being said.  This is the third time she has done this and never has a recess actually resulted.

Here is the letter that was so incendiary, it could not be broadcast on TV.

Jan. 21, 2016

Dear Mrs. Steenson:

I would like your assistance in clarifying some issues concerning litigation by the Timberlane Regional School District.

  1. Who is our district lawyer?
  2. By what authorization and under what conditions may the superintendent commence legal proceedings?
  3. What is the policy for notifying all school board members of proposed, threatened, pending or filed litigation?
  4. If there is no formal policy, what is the current practice involving notification of all school board members regarding proposed, threatened, pending or filed litigation?
  5. The Federal lawsuit involving Carolyn Morse was not communicated to the school board, nor did we vote to pursue litigation, nor have we been given any updates whatsoever on this litigation; nevertheless, a lawyer hired by the SAU is purporting to represent the district’s assertions in a court of law. When will the school board be briefed on this suit?
  6. Will the school board be asked to vote to approve any settlement? Is there is a policy in this regard?
  7. By what authorization/policy is the superintendent authorized to approve a legal settlement?

I await your answers in writing which I will post on my blog for the benefit of the public. I also ask you to include a breakdown of all the legal costs the superintendent has incurred since his tenure in our district and for what purpose.

Since I know full well no such disclosure will be forthcoming, I am stating now and as a representative of the Town of Sandown, I demand that this district disclose all its legal invoices for 2015 and to date before the school deliberative session on Feb 4, 2016.

As I said, I await your written response.

Donna Green

Readers please don’t be in suspense.  Not one of these questions will be answered and that’s they way the board and the superintendent like it. You are funding a legal fees ATM.

UPDATE Jan. 26, 2016   Chairman Steenson has not so much as acknowledged my letter, let alone responded to it. I will not get a response on any of my questions and I knew I wouldn’t which is why I read the letter in public comment. Perhaps the chairman is too busy watching the tumult in Hampstead where a citizen’s petition to withdraw from SAU 55 is on the ballot.

 

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Who is threatening the children?

Last week Superintendent Metzler put out a press release that has been picked up internationally saying, untruthfully, that Hampstead Budget Committee Chairman, Jorge Mesa-Tejada, had a “blatant disregard for the safety of our children.”

Here is the relevant excerpt from this press release of Jan. 15:

First and foremost, we wish to state that the School Board and district administrators have a long established commitment and responsibility to the safety and well-being of our students and staff members.

Second, we take seriously these offensive and disgusting statements made by Mr. Mesa-Tejada and wholeheartedly denounce his behavior and blatant display of disregard for our children and their safety. Additionally we call into question his fitness to serve in any town official capacity.

Providing a safe and welcoming school environment for our students and staff is a priority and we are committed to this endeavor. We would like to reassure concerned students, parents, teachers, and staff members that we will continue to do everything within our power to ensure our schools are safe.

“The district administration has a long established commitment and responsibility to the safety and well-being of our students….”  That’s good to hear asserted, but how does it jibe with Superintendent Metzler’s retaliatory threats against the budgets of Sandown schools?

During Timberlane’s budget season, our superintendent repeatedly threatened to freeze a line or lines in Sandown schools’ budgets to pay for snow clearing if the school district budget committee denied extra funds to the district for this purpose – even though the Town of Sandown has said repeatedly they intend to continue plowing Sandown Central.

Why would only the budget of Sandown schools be affected?  Is it the school’s fault the budget committee decided against making the taxpayers double pay for snow clearing?

At last night’s Sandown Board of Selectman meeting (Jan. 18), Selectman Tom Tombarello said he had been in private conversation with Dr. Metzler that day and Metzler stated that he would freeze a line or lines in Sandown schools budgets to recover the costs to the district for anything associated with a new withdrawal plan.

Think about this.  Is the superintendent of a district threatening to use school building operating funds as a political weapon against children and parents?

Mr. Tombarello repeated Dr. Metzler’s alleged threat with conviction and fear. As a selectman, Mr. Tombarello’s reaction should have been anger and defiance.

The district ran a $4 million surplus in 14/15.  It is budgeted to run a $1.6 million this year. Yet, supposedly, the district needs to freeze money from the elementary schools of one pesky town to stay solvent?

Does such a threat as this correspond with a concern for the well-being of our children?

Is this is the kind of district the parents of Sandown are fighting to stay in? So they can be bullied with their own money and see their children’s comfort in school buildings held hostage?

To the vocal opponents of withdrawal, I ask you: where is your outrage?  This time the threat serves your political interests.  Next time it won’t.

 

 

 

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